Emma’s manager cocked her head, giving her that disapproving look he had that let her know she had gained weight. With deft fingers he plucked the nectarine she was about to devour out of her hand.
“Fruit, Emma? Fruit?” he scolded. “You know how much sugar is in this stuff. You have a show in less than…” he checked his watch. “Five hours. At this point, it’s nothing but water.” Light glistened off his ugly bald head as a vein bulged, indicating high levels of stress and anger.
“But Francis…” she started.
He glared at her. “Fine, and carrot sticks or celery, but only if you’re starving.” He gave her another once over. “Now, I have to go attend to the other girls who are doing the first shows. I trust you can make it to the backstage check- in for yours on your own?”
“And please, Emma, try to be there an hour early and not as bloated as you are right now.” He took her silence as an agreement and strutted off to attend to his more important business.
Emma glanced down at her flat stomach. She didn’t think it was bloated, but she had gained two pounds since last week, bringing her up to a hefty 104. At 5 feet 10 inches tall, it was a wonder she wasn’t in the hospital, if truth be told. All she’d wanted to do was finish high school, she thought with a sigh, but someone had to go and call her beautiful and ruin her life. Suddenly, a wave of anger hit her. She didn’t care about this stupid show, or Betsey Johnson or Francis or anyone. She’d rather wait tables for the rest of her life than eat one more celery stick. Emma looked at the bowl of nectarines across the room, then got up and strode out with more passion than she’d ever walked on the runway before. She was going to get a Big Mac, and forget about this entire world. Let them find someone else to walk for her.
She was done.
Helen rolled her head back and looked at the buildings that towered over the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Her psychotic friend Laura was next her, notebook in one hand, camera in the other, even a pencil stuck into her bun to complete the cliché. Still, she was dressed for the occasion, in a blue and white striped Alexander Wang mini dress she had probably saved of up all year to buy, a detachable red collar, and a pair of white monogrammed Luis Vuitton patent leather heels that even Helen had to admit looked adorable. She pulled down her classic Ray Bans to more easily glare at her friend and tapped her foot impatiently on the ground. “Come on, Helen, we have to figure out a way to get in! I mean, Marc Jacobs will be there, for Christ’s sake!”
Helen took off the cheap aviator sunglasses she’d bought at the drug store and stuck them on top of her head, knowing full well they’d get stuck in her hair and she’d regret this decision later, but she needed to talk some sense into her friend. “First of all,” she said “you should know by now that I have no idea who that is.”
Laura gasped as though Helen had just said something blasphemous. “Secondly, you can’t get in without an invite! Anyway, do you think some big fashion editor is going to see you and offer you a job just because you managed to sneak into a runway show?”
“Shhh!” Laura pleaded. “Can’t you just go with me on this? It might work if they think we belong here.”
“It’s not going to work,” I said.
And sure enough, the second the two girls approached the door, a big burly security guard asserted himself, imposing his body between them and access to fashion week. “Passes for check in?” he asked.
“Um, we were told to pick them up inside,” Laura said, feigning ignorance.
Helen rolled her eyes and noticed the security guard eyeballing her tattered Vans.
“Yeah,” he said slowly. “You’re going to need a pass if you want to get inside and see the show. Have a good day.” The expression on his face made it clear to Helen that this was not up for discussion, but Laura pressed on.
“Please,” she said. “I need this! I run a fashion blog for my school newspaper and if I could just get inside and take a look, it would seal my chances of being editor-in-chief next year and jump start my fashion reporting career!”
The security guard glared down at us. “I said no,” he repeated more forcefully. Helen wasn’t sure how much tolerance he’d have for Laura much longer, so she grabbed her arm and began to pull her away, but was stopped by a sudden shout.
“Emma!” a frantic woman with a French accent screamed. “Emma! We have been looking all over for you! Get over here, curtain call is in ten minutes!”
The security guard looked down at the two girls. Helen and Laura looked back at him with blank faces. Neither of them knew who Emma was, but the woman seemed to be talking to Helen. “Do you know these girls?” he asked.
“Yes!” the woman gasped. “That’s one of our star models! We’ve been looking for her for the past two hours.”
“I’m not…” Helen began, but Laura glared at her, as if trying to send secret telepathic signals through her mind. Suddenly Helen got it. They were getting in.
Helen was sitting in a chair backstage, terrified and angry. She hated fashion and models and could not believe she had been mistaken for one. In fact, one of the other girls had complimented her torn up shoes and faded Henley as she walked in. She wasn’t trying to make a statement, she told the other girl, but her protest fell on deaf ears.
Now they were expecting her to go out on the runway.
She was okay with pretending to be part of the show to get Laura through the door, but the Crazy Curtain Call Lady wouldn’t let her slip away after their infiltration. Instead, she whisked Helen away to hair and makeup while Laura watched helplessly. Helen didn’t know which was more terrifying: the possibility of being found out as a fake or the idea of putting on some fancy designer clothes worth more than everything she’d ever owned her entire life put together and walking in front of the industry’s biggest names. She was glad she didn’t recognize any of them or understand their importance, or she’d probably puke.
Helen turned to the girl in the chair next to her. “I’m not a model,” she told her.
The girl laughed. “Yeah right, and I’m not Kate Moss,” she said. “You’ll be fine, honey! I remember my first fashion week too.”
Helen didn’t have the words to respond. That was one name she did recognize.
“Ladies, ladies!” Crazy Curtain Call Lady cried out. “Line up! We’re starting in five! Are you all in your proper outfits? Betsey and I are coming by to inspect!”
Helen was completely zoned out, and barely had the wits to acknowledge the woman that checked the zipper of her short pink A-line princess dress. She was too busy worrying about how to not trip and fall on her face in the mile high sparkly heels she had been forced to wear. She missed her Vans.
There was no going back, though. Helen followed the line of girls out the door and onto the runway. She just focused on putting one foot in front of the other, praying she wouldn’t stick out like the sore thumb she was. There was dubstep music and cheering and the sound of pounding in her ears. One foot then the other. Stop. Turn.
Then she was backstage again.
“Emma!” a tiny balding man called out. “How could you do that? Running away until right before the show. Here, change faster! You’re on in thirty?”
“Minutes?” Helen asked.
“No! Seconds, you idiot…” he trailed off, recognizing her for who she really was: not Emma.
“There was a mistake,” Helen said. “They couldn’t find Emma and thought I was her. I’m Helen.”
“Does it look like I give a rat’s bald tale who you are? Tie this halter and get out there!”
Helen stumbled back onto the runway in her floor length emerald halter gown a little dazed. These fashion week people were incredibly high strung. She held her head up, though the mountain of hair spray on it made that feat difficult, and thanked heaven that she was wearing the same shoes as she had on her first run. She was starting to get used to them.
The second Helen got out of her dress and was allowed access to her ratty jeans and faded white shirt, she felt instantly better, and realized that she was hungry. She followed her new friend Kate (the kids at school would never believe this) to the Kraft services table that was set up for the models, and locked her eyes on a slice of hot cheese pizza. She snatched it up greedily, not caring if she got any tomato sauce on her shirt, and brought it to her mouth, but like a ninja, that crazy little bald man was there.
“Emma!” he scolded, grabbing the slice out of her hands and mushing it up into a napkin with a look of disgust on his face. “You can’t eat during fashion week.” He said that with the same tone of voice you’d tell a child “stoves are hot and can burn you.”
“Relax, Francis,” Kate said, reaching for a bread stick. “It’s 2011. People don’t want skeleton models anymore. And this girl’s gorgeous.” She looked at Helen. “I mean that, Emma.”
“Actually, my name’s Helen,” she said. “I have no idea how I got in here. My friend wanted to see the show and they thought I was this Emma girl because they couldn’t find her. I really am not a model.”
Kate threw her head backed and laughed so loudly, everyone around the table turned their heads. “You’re all right, Helen,” she said. “You’re going to go far.”
“Well,” Francis said, forcing an ugly smile onto his face. “Now that Emma’s abandoned us, it seems I have an opening for a client. Need an agent, girl?”
Helen reached for another slice of pizza, this time one with every kind of meat on it. “Not in a million years, Baldie,” she said. “Just being here for three hours has made me seen why Emma quit.”
The look on his face was deadly. “You know what they say about burning bridges, Emma,” he retorted, before pretending to have a sudden need to greet some people across the room.
“Creep,” Helen muttered.
“Really,” Kate said, smiling at her. “You have potential. I have some way better contacts I can put you in touch with, and I can probably get you to do the rest of Emma’s shows.”
“Can my friend Laura come watch all of them?” Helen asked.
Kate frowned. “There are no seats left, so she’d have to hang backstage.”
Helen grinned, already pulling out her phone to text Laura. “That’ll be perfect,” she said.